How to get the most from exhibiting at a trade show

Sony's booth at CES Trade shows are important elements of the promotional mix. So how do you get the most from

The primary goals of exhibiting at a trade show revolve around sales,
branding (ie deferred sales) and partnership (ie sales channel, product
development). Exhibitions also offer strong potential for press
relations since you’ll typically have news and reporters/bloggers will
attend. Keep your goal firmly in mind when developing your trade show
presence. It’s amazing how many companies get distracted with the trade
show hoopla and miss the objective of being there. Here are a few tips:

The booth experience – your booth is a physical manifestation of your
brand and allows your target audience to experience it. What
do you want to communicate? If it’s innovation, then have some new
experiences for people to enjoy. For instance, at CES 2010 Kodak had a
huge table of Microsoft Surfaces containing information about their
products with which the audience could interact. It didn’t matter that
this wasn’t the best way to view the technical specifications of their
latest digital camera, the experience simply oozed innovation and left
the impression of a company trying to do things differently. It was
engaging and gave the booth traffic an experience, not a show room.

The hook – why will people come onto your booth? This has nothing to do
with size or the fact you’ve paid extra for a sign with your logo
hanging from the ceiling. What will you give in exchange for people’s
attention? So this might be the chance to try an new eReader, play a 3D
game, get their photo taken with a celebrity look-a-like. You need a
hook and ideally it should tie into you key sales message. So yes,
you’ll get traffic with a pneumatic bikini-babe but they might not be
your target audience nor remember your product. Try a bit harder to
give people something they haven’t seen before.

The giveaway – the hook can be a giveaway. This works well if part of
your product range is relatively cheap and so easy for you to
distribute eg iPhone cases. If you have a razor/razor blades
proposition even better since you’re seeding future sales, rather than
just introducing the brand. In general though, most people don’t want
to carry crapola around a show floor, so pens, candy, stress balls etc
aren’t much of a draw.

The location – it matters where your booth is, probably more than its
size. If your sector has an area on the show floor, you want to be with
your peers. This is because relevant traffic will congregate there and
be able to compare your range with competitors. If you are an emerging
brand, think carefully before plunking yourself down next to the
titans. It can make you look smaller if your product range is more
limited, even though you invest in a huge booth. That said, emerging
brand Sensio, invested in a large booth at CES to showcase its amazing
3D technology which brought the company right alongside large
competitors with an arguably better product. However, if all you can afford is a
small booth on the periphery of the smallest hall, then think about a
different presence – perhaps a hotel suite or evening event might work

The message – make it clear what you do. Don’t assume people know your
company or its range. Emerging brands especially need to be clear in
the booth backdrop to say what the company is offering. This should be an
elegant tag line, and not a 10-word technical product description. Many
companies post complex product schematics on ‘helpful’ boards which can
only be read up close and only make sense once explained by a booth
staffer. Perhaps this would be a better handout, rather than taking
valuable wall space. Get people onto your booth, then sell to them.

The staff – booth traffic peaks and troughs. You want to staff for the
peaks, then in the slow time send out the extras to walk the show floor
for partnering work. Too few staff and you’ll let leads walk off the
booth unapproached; too many and they’ll talk to each other and look
bored. It’s off-putting for the audience to see booth staff just
talking among themselves, sipping coffee and ignoring the audience.
Equally, attracting people to the book by aggressively trying to sign
them up to a competition can make the brand look desperate. Let the
products and the booth do the work, and then close people as they come

The dress code – try to avoid the khaki pants/branded polo shirt for
guys. Nothing says ‘tech company sales person’ more than that. For
instance, Casio had long sleeved, extra long gray tops with large black
belts for its female staff at CES which made them look more
approachable, a bit more stylish and comfortable. They all looked the
same, so it was obvious they worked at the company, but avoided the
traditional tech uniform.

The sell – do ask for attendees’ card information. If you have a good
hook, it’s a quid pro quo to get the card swipe in return. Informally
from CES, I’d say less than 10% of the booths were proactive in swiping
delegate cards, even though they had taken the time to talk through the
products. Again, these are leads which are just walking off the booth.
At the same time, your booth is not a store, so don’t lay it out like
one. We’re not there to purchase your widget but to experience it, so
we don’t need every product on display, just the key ones you want us
to remember.

The follow up – prepare this in advance of the show, so you can mail it
out promptly. Include links to further information and try to push the
recipients along the sales funnel. It’s likely the leads will be
unqualified so cater for people at each stage with a mix of educational
and sales-oriented messages. For people ready to purchase, make sure
you provide a link to your store/sales team.Photo 2

The details – as a final point, make sure you get all the details
right. This means being ready when the show floor opens (at CES about
5% were still putting their booth together), spelling the signage
correctly (see right), having a food policy on booth (ie don’t), looking for trip hazards, checking all the demos work regularly (we break stuff) etc. 

Trade show attendance may have decreased over the last few years, but
done correctly at the right venue, a strong presence can help achieve
your goals and provide a focal point for your marketing program.